July 23, 2021

July 25, 1991


Thirty years ago, on July 25, 1991, the last henchman of the Stalin regime – Lazar Kaganovich – died in Moscow at the age of 97. The Ukrainian Weekly’s editorial of the August 4 issue that year reminded readers that the man known as the “Iron Commissar” helped Joseph Stalin institute and maintain his reign of terror in the USSR during the 1930s and 1940s.

Kaganovich is most known by Ukrainians as the man whom Stalin charged with enforcing the agricultural policies behind collectivization that resulted in the Famine-Genocide of Ukraine, known as the Holodomor of 1932-1933, which targeted and killed millions of Ukrainians.

Born in 1893 in Kabany, the Kyiv region of Ukraine, Kaganovich became the first secretary of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine in 1925 until 1928, and he was a member of the all-union party Central Committee. Five years later, as mayor of Moscow, he was named a member of the Politburo.

Kaganovich is remembered for his iron-fisted rule, having destroyed hundreds of churches, as well as for mass deportations and purges.

However, he did not earn respect from his fellow Communists, including Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who in his memoirs described Kaganovich as one of the most “vicious” of all Bolsheviks. In 1947, Kaganovich was sent to Ukraine to assume the position of first secretary of the CPU, which was held previously by Khrushchev.

“Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopedia” writes: “Kaganovich’s first assignment was to cope with the outcome of the famine in the countryside and to bring order to Ukrainian agriculture. For this purpose he restored his favorite ‘political departments’ in the machine-tractor stations and state farms and relied heavily on their dictatorial powers.” Kaganovich is also held responsible for orchestrating the 1947 purge of Ukrainian cultural cadres for alleged nationalism.

It was only when Khrushchev became leader of the USSR in 1957 that the last Stalinists – Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovich – were ousted. Kaganovich lost all of his party and government posts, even his party membership, but he was later rehabilitated.

The editorial concluded: “It is indeed ironic that this man, responsible for the repression and deaths of countless millions, was allowed to live out his life peacefully in Moscow and was never brought to justice for his crimes. Though he dies as the last vestige of the Stalin era, his legacy of terror will serve as a constant reminder of the horrors of communism.”

In the fight against Soviet nostalgia that is utilized by Putinism, and as Ukraine prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its renewed independence on August 24, Ukrainians count down the days when the Soviet-era statue “Rodina Mat” (Ukrainian: Batkivshchyna Maty) in Kyiv and the Lenin mummy and mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow will be sent to the dustbin of history. The Soviet hammer and sickle are featured on a shield carried by the statue in Kyiv. Historians have called for the Soviet symbol to be removed in line with Ukraine’s decommunization laws.

Source: “Legacy of terror,” The Ukrainian Weekly, August 4, 1991.